I am lucky enough to work within Educational Diversity, the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Blackpool. We are based over four sites across the town and we cater for those young people aged between 7–16 who are unable to attend mainstream school due to social, behavioural or emotional needs.
One of our sites houses our Home and Hospital Education Service, supporting young people with mental health needs or some medical conditions that render them too unwell to attend mainstream school at the time.
It is perhaps unsurprising then, to learn that many of the young people in our care have experienced a variety of traumas and so their presenting behaviours can often be quite challenging, leading to periods of aggressive and violent behaviour.
As a result, we have always had the responsibility to train our staff in the use of safe techniques and strategies to de-escalate situations in a positive yet compassionate way which hasn’t always been easy.
Switch to CPI training
We took the decision approximately 12 years ago to switch over to CPI and MAPA* (now known as Safety Intervention). The reason behind this was because we felt we needed to develop a more understanding approach to managing ‘risky’ situations that could lead to a positive outcome for those involved.
Educational diversity is a ‘good’ PRU as judged by Ofsted in May 2017 and has a reputation for always going that extra mile to support a young person. We are great believers that there is often some undiagnosed or unmet need that lies behind behaviour and so we are always searching to gain a better understanding of these so we can support our learners to make positive change.
When we were introduced to MAPA and the embedded philosophy around the importance of de-escalation and maintaining the dignity of the young person, we were keen to try it, as this resonated with our whole school ethos.
We have some amazing staff, many of whom have a wealth of experience and are able to support and engage with some very troubled young people. We also have new staff who join us periodically, all eager to learn. We ensure that there is always a cross-section of staff who have been trained in MAPA, with multiple refreshers over the years.
One of the things we have found to be most useful is the annual refresher because it has enabled us to ensure ‘bad habits’ don’t get stuck. To help us manage this better, taking more control over the way in which we both support and challenge the practice of staff, we took the decision to have three senior staff trained as MAPA Instructors about seven years ago.
This has meant in practice that we have MAPA Instructors available to debrief staff following serious incidents - always aiming to reflect on and improve practice and maintain the highest standards.
Over the years we built up a training schedule which ensured more and more staff understood and practised our philosophy - particularly when needing to use physical interventions. As we analyse incidents, we have discovered a trend showing a reduction in the number of restraints being used.
We obviously asked ourselves why this was happening; could it be attributed to the changing cohorts of children with less risky behaviour, or was it simply the changing attitudes of staff? On reflection over the years there have been elements of both that have been true.
At present we have a cohort with some of the most troubled and challenged young people from across all of Blackpool, who at times display extremely high levels of risky behaviours. Despite this, our numbers of restraints are still reducing and I now feel confident to say that this is the result of changing staff attitudes and practice - it is no longer ‘the norm’ to use physical intervention as a first option. Instead, we have a staff team who all understand and value the importance of finding another way to reach and understand a young person in distress - avoiding physical interventions until it really is necessary.
As one of the MAPA Instructors and a member of the Senior Leadership Team with responsibility for behaviour, I have recently led a review of our behaviour policy. This was a great opportunity as I was able to further emphasise our core values and philosophy - to support our students to learn about themselves and to be supported in taking ownership for decisions to regulate their behaviour.
All situations, both positive and negative, are there to learn from. Involving a staff working party, student voice and training sessions, we have been able to reflect further on our practice and identify how we can continue to maintain high expectations for the behaviour of both students and staff.
This is important because, even with our positive philosophy, we have a few staff who have struggled to alter their practice over the years and would potentially slip back to old habits if we didn’t keep monitoring and reflecting on our practice.
The core values of MAPA: Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security are now clearly written within our behaviour policy, reinforcing our expectations. We will continue to reflect and ensure we maintain the compassionate practice we genuinely believe in.
Nearly three years ago, we decided to become an Approved Training Centre (ATC)** for delivering MAPA, enabling us to share our practise and training through our outreach work with mainstream schools. The training has been well received and is something we will continue to support colleagues with as part of our drive to improve inclusive practice .
Now that CPI has developed a new course for schools, Pivotal MAPA***, we are in the process of transitioning our Instructor training to include this. Moving forward, we hope to continue training our local schools using methods specifically designed for use in education settings. The likelihood is, this will also be relevant in our own setting.
Additionally, this year we decided to train our Instructors in the advanced MAPA course, due to the occasional high risk situations we experience. We are in the process of hand selecting a few staff to be trained in the advanced techniques which I am sure will help us further ensure the safety and welfare of all.
We are always moving forward as there are always new things to learn. We will always keep reflecting to ensure we remain true to our beliefs and values. Our students need to be cared for in a compassionate, safe and dignified manner, as do our staff. MAPA most certainly helps us do that.
*MAPA is now known as Safety Intervention
**ATCs - we no longer offer this service but we do work with our customers in order for them to become affiliated to Bild ACT.
***Pivotal MAPA is also now known as Safety Intervention. We run tailored programmes for those who care for Children and Young People and we also have a Classroom Culture programme for schools.